When then-Sen. Barack Obama publicly claimed the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 after a long primary season, there was one blemish — he’d lost the South Dakota primary that day to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Obama also would lose the state twice in general elections.
That bit of political history, according to the White House, is not what kept Obama from visiting South Dakota during the nearly 2,300 days he’s been president — although he has managed to visit all 49 other states.
Finally, on Friday, Obama became the fourth president to have visited all 50 of the United States, when he delivered the commencement address at a community college here. For the loyal-blue Democratic president and deeply red state, it was a cause for celebration.
Many local residents lined the short motorcade route from the airport to the local high school, some looking as if they'd camped out for hours and others holding welcome signs.
“It's good to be in South Dakota,” Obama told the commencement crowd.
“I was saving the best for last,” he added. “To the other 49, I hope you take no offense.”
Richard Nixon was the first president to visit all the states, achieving the milestone within his first three years.
It took President Clinton until his final weeks in office to visit No. 50, Nebraska — a trip planned only after he learned he was one short. President George H.W. Bush managed to visit all 50 states in his only term. His son ended his two-term presidency without having set foot in Vermont.
As Obama entered his last two years in office, his itinerary this year conspicuously included other states he’d been absent from during his presidency.
After his State of the Union address in January, he went to Idaho to discuss advanced manufacturing. Just over a month later, he went to South Carolina for a town-hall-style meeting. And in April he stopped in Utah for remarks on the economy.
The common factor: They were all states he’d lost twice in general elections. But the White House prefers to argue that he’s championing ideas that have bipartisan support, and visiting red states to help illustrate that point.
Obama continued that theme in Watertown, promoting his proposal to provide free community college tuition.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) noted that the school Obama visited, Lake Area Technical Institute, has one of the highest graduation and job-placement rates in the state.
“For the young men and women that are at the technical school, this is an experience of a lifetime for them,” said Rounds, who attended as the uncle of a graduate.